“Fences” — Playing It Straight

Fences are funny inventions. They are some of the most human of human inventions. They seem indomitable simply because they exist. Be it stone or wood, brick or clay, it is the handiwork of someone who feels they can beat whatever is coming down the way by sheer will. A fence is the culmination of hard work, determination, good intentions and that most basic and fierce of all human conditions: fear.

Denzel Washington took on an interesting project for his directorial debut. He and co-star Viola Davis have worked this play inside and out during their short — but Tony-filled run — in 2010. August Wilson’s words probably ached in their marrows before they even picked up his script for this adaptation. Washington is smart enough to not have to do much with this script, with this cast, with this story. It’s a script that was built on a stage and lives on its feet. Just keep the cameras rolling and try and capture the humanity on display.

Washington, however, digs deeper. Odie Henderson’s excellent review from RogerEbert.com alludes to the deepening of the visuals in the film. Instead of trying to blow up the play to fit the screen, Washington, Director of Photography Charlotte Bruus Christensen and production designer David Gropman fill in the rest of the picture to place these characters within the context. It’s a fantastic doubling act: a play wrested from life and placed onto the stage is then played out inside a living tableau.

This is evident within the framework of the camera. Washington smartly keeps things open as we get to learn the characters. We see the warmth between Washington’s Troy and Davis’s Rose, built on what seems like pleasant but shaky foundations in two shots. Troy’s friend Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson)  literally opens up the frame whenever he’s around. The camera ingratiates him as a member of the household, just as it does with Lyons (Russell Hornsby), Troy’s eldest. 

That payday joviality isn’t doing anything other than masquerading as harmony. We have the rest of the image to thank for that.

Throughout the film, the dead center of the shot is scythed by any number of vertical objects. While Troy turns in another one of his big stories, the shot is bifurcated by any number of hard, stiff lines: the pole that hangs the laundry line, the edge of the brick house, the jamb on the old screen door, the edge of a window sill. This follows into the house, where the cut of the living room’s porthole door into the kitchen is always lingering whenever talk of money bounces around the walls, or in the shots of time passing in montage as a crack down the middle of the street. The sun can rise and it can set but that crack, as long as the block, never fades.

Most of the discussions between the principals play out in two shots. The characters share the screen, their heads splitting the difference. But notice how these hemispheres disappear whenever Troy and Rose speak about their son, Cory (Jovan Adepo), or when old friends talk about their pasts spilling out into their future, or when a brother (Mykelti Williamson’s Gabriel) appears and wrenches up sympathy and shame.

All of the characters mired in these conflicts take dead center. Here they are not just the impediments for the others but their safety. It’s the duality of a fence that is voiced in the money line by Bono: fences can be made to keep things out or to keep things in. Cory wants to start his own life away from his father but Troy refuses to let his son go, fearing the pain and rejection that he has felt. Troy feels boxed in by a life he never wanted and tries to escape, only to find himself boxed in even further. Rose thinks that the biggest road block in her life can bring her down but it only lifts her up in a way she never felt before.

Washington does a superb job visually reminding us that everyone faces these fears in their lives. And, as they do so, they have to wrestle with trying to both fortify themselves and their loved ones while trying to storm the gates to their freedom. Otherwise you might stop and see who you’ve locked yourself inside with. And that is a scary thought.

 

 

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Here We Go Again

 

Okay, sorry. I’m back.

It’s been a while. How have the last six years been? Fruitful, I hope. It has been less so for me.

One of my loves is writing about stuff that I love, or challenges me, or that I love and challenges me. It was part of my life and it slowly faded away. It has not been as much fun without it.

So, I’m going to shamelessly rip off the great Matt Zoller Seitz and his 30 Minutes On: series from his MZS blog on the truly excellent RogerEbert.com. (Here is a sample on The Thing [1982].)T his blatant theft should accomplish two things: got my lazy butt back into the mode of critical thinking and take away any excuse to stop me from writing. C’mon, it’s just 30 minutes!

I just whipped the site up in about ten minutes. The font is butt. The sizing is weird. But whatever. All excuses. I’m about to watch Fences with my betrothed. I’ll let you know something about it I liked in about three hours.

Further kudos to writer and editor Danielle Villano whose head-first dive into the books she has not yet read helped to kickstart this project. I too have a jar filled with movies I need to watch. They get arty! Be warned.

The New Normal

Hey folks. Remember that time about eight months ago when I said how much I love changing blog themes? Well, here I go again….

I used to feature all my writing only in this here spot, but that will no longer be the case. In the last few months, I’ve turned into a film critic/columnist at http://www.TheFilmStage.com and will soon bring my “I’ll Never Get Tired Of…” column style over there.

On top of that, I’m excited to announce that I will also be starting and’ for lack of a better term, be the editor-in-vhief at a new writing-based web magazine called The Inclusive, which will be found at http://www.TheInclusive.net. As of now we are collecting a number of great writers for our staff and will always be on the lookout for guest contributors. The site’s nomenclature is also its mission statement: it’s a site for us, all of us, to write for. I’m terribly excited for it to begin. High, high hopes for that one.

So what, then, comes of this space?

The Inclusive will get at least two columns from me (if not more) so this space will be a catch-all for anything I write. Sometimes it will feature a link to let you know of a new review posted on The Film Stage or a new humor column on The Inclusive, but it can also be a place for writing that doesn’t fit in either box. If I rant about Charlie Sheen, for example, it might not be able to fit in The Inclusive’s box schedule, so it’ll go here. Or I have a funny li’l three paragrpah story, this will be its home.

Exciting things are happening, folks. Keep up with all my doings here, at ooooolllll’ Mike-Anton.com.

Or keep gawking at photos of Brooke Baldwin. Whatever floats your boat.

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men….

There are few things worse than failure, but here we are.  I said I’d do 25 movies in 25 straight days, but the weather, professional commitments and personal issues will prevent me from doing any this coming week.  So there goes the whole “in consecutive days” thing.  I will fill up all of January with reviews, however, as some sort of way to make face.  I doubt anyone will be too offended by this, except, of course, myself.

To 2011 we go.

Announcing 25 Moves in 25 Days

Ho ho ho.  To show just how serious I am about this whole “only TV and Movies thing” (outside of memoir-esque essays and podcasts, natch), I’m going to dedicate the next five weeks of programming to a new movie essay every day.  Just so we’re all on the same page, there won’t be any “new” movies; everything will be available on DVD or Blu-Ray and, if you’re lucky!, streaming somewhere on the internets.  Monday through Thursday will be pretty basic, well-known fare.  Friday will delve a bit deeper into my film school vault to hopefully expose you guys to some stuff you’ve never seen before.  Don’t worry, it’ll be more Seven Samurai than Kanal (which is really fucking excellent).

So come on by Monday for the first film in the series.  Should be good.

(Don’t take that as a guarantee)

The banners for the project have been lovingly donated by my pal Matt Lubchansky. Read his great web comic The Adam! and follow him on twitter.

Programming Changes

I come to you folks at a crossroads.  No, no, that sounds dire.  Rather, we’ve come to an end of the preliminary round of “I’ll Never Get Tired Of….”  It’s been four months and seventy-five posts since this introductory post, which seems like an ideal time to re-evaluate this space.  The original theory was that I would write every day in an effort to share with you–my dear, loving audience–some of the long-lasting loves of my life.  That has taken the form of movies, trailers, albums, viral videos, how truly shitty Ke$ha is (parts 1 and 2), and the bizarre things one finds at their Grandma’s house.  And it’s been all well and good, I guess.  But the time has come to…focus.

Continue reading “Programming Changes”

Slow and Steady Winning The Race

The US losing the World Cup bid in 2022 to Qatar sucks.  It really does.  I have actively followed the bidding process for the better part of a year, checked in on regular updates, and even watched the full final US presentation yesterday just to make sure that I knew they were going to win.  How could they not?  They boasted well over 18 host cities, all with relatively new-ish football stadiums that averaged 67,000 seat capacity, all currently built and ready to hold the event tomorrow if need be (let alone in 12 years).  We have tons of hotel and pleasure accommodations at each site that also doubles as tourist attractions during off days as well as a well-tested infrastructure that worked so well that during our hosting of the 1994 World Cup that it is still the most profitable and most heavily-attended event they have ever put on.

What more could they need?  (Well, outside of heavy bribes, a fondness for “most populated cities” which are roughly the size of Dover, NH, stadiums built like boats that are mainly accessible by boats, swealtering heat, heavy bribes…)  And while I would have loved to attend a World Cup by taking the same trip needed to see a Giants preseason game, it’s not to be.  Congrats, Qatar.  Let’s all move on, right?  Oh, wait, so now US Soccer as a whole will falter?  There is a prevailing idea that without hosting another World Cup, less than 30 years after hosting our first ever, all of our progress up until now is all for naught.  And that, of course, is total bullshit. Continue reading “Slow and Steady Winning The Race”